Raising Children For A Better World

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Chalice lighting

We come together today in hope
In mid-December, with daylight at its shortest
And a chilling darkness that seems to go on forever
Even now, we know that the light will return
Even now, we know that life-giving warmth will come again
And when dark times come to our nation and our world and cold hearts seem in control
We have hope too that the light of justice and the warmth of compassion will once again grow
Tomorrow will bring a greater justice and a greater love
It will be the work of our hands and our hearts
The work of millions of others like us
And the work of the generations that follow.
Inspired by our actions and our love
they will create the future of our dreams

Reading: Excerpts from Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I have some suggestions for how to raise Chizalum. But remember that you might do all the things I suggest, and she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing. What matters is that you try.

8. Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people. Teach her to be honest. And kind. And brave. Encourage her to speak her mind, to say what she really thinks, to speak truthfully. And then praise her when she does.

14. Be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints. Saintliness is not a pre-requisite for dignity. People who are unkind and dishonest are still human, and still deserve dignity. Property rights for rural Nigerian women, for example, is a major feminist issue, and the women do not need to be good and angelic to be allowed their property rights. There is sometimes, in the discourse around gender, the assumption that women are supposed to be morally ‘better’ than men. They are not. Women are as human as men are. Female goodness is as normal as female evil. And there are many women in the world who do not like other women. Not all women are feminists and not all men are misogynists.

15. Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.

She must understand that people walk different paths and that as long as those paths do no harm to others, they are valid paths that she must respect. Teach her that we do not know – we cannot know – everything about life. Both religion and science have spaces for the things we do not know, and it is enough to make peace with that.

The term ‘non-judgmental’ can easily devolve into meaning ‘don’t have an opinion about anything.’ And so, instead of that, what I hope for Chizalum is this: that she will be full of opinions, and that her opinions will come from an informed, humane and broad-minded place.

May she be healthy and happy. May her life be whatever she wants it to be.

Do you have a headache after reading all this? Sorry. Next time don’t ask me how to raise your daughter feminist.

Reading: A House Called Tomorrow, by Alberto Ríos

You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries
And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step
Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,
The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.
If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:
The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. But think:
When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—
It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.
From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,
The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:
That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.
Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.
Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
Make us proud. Make yourself proud.
And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.

Message - by Rev. Andy Pakula

Today, we welcomed a child amongst us. She is a beautiful child with loving parents and an adorable older brother.

And this time and every time we welcome a new child, there is new hope. Every child comes into this world innocent and good. Every child is born unbiased and free of prejudice.

The hope each child brings is not so much for the world that we adults will live in, although this is part of their promise. The hope is that their generation and generations far beyond will create and live in a world with ever greater justice where every person has the opportunity to live to their potential. That future world of which we dream would be too a world of greater love - where each one wants the best for each other person - were people strive to understand one another and to have compassion for the hurts and pains they carry.

Such a world may not be a destination - humanity is unlikely to arrive at a perfect state. It is rather a journey that is furthered in every age. In the lives of the older people here, including me, we have seen the civil rights movement progress rights for people of African heritage. We have seen same-sex marriage legalised. We have seen wars reduced in frequency. We have seen a National Health Service come into existence to provide medical care for all. And we have seen more. At each age and each stage, we see the work yet to be done and we move justice forward.

We do not know what the future will bring. Some of you will live to see great advances. None of us will live to see the whole story that plays out far into the future.

And this is the hope of children - for what we cannot do and we will not see, they or their children or their children’s children have the potential to do and may be fortunate enough to see.

These things may come to pass but only if we prepare our children - only if we give the children of today the awareness, the knowledge, the understanding, and the tools to create that world.

That is a job for parents but not only for parents. Places like New Unity have the unique opportunity and the responsibility to raise children who can help make that world of vision a reality.

When my own son was a toddler,  I was in no position to raise him to be a justice-seeking child. I had not been raised to understand the injustice of the world. I was surrounded by others like myself - privileged and unaware. I was unmoved by racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and colonialism.  My wife was more enlightened but we could never have done it alone. We made a decision that seemed unremarkable at the time but which has changed everything. We decided to try out our local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

In that place, we were all immersed in a compassionate, justice-seeking environment. We changed - not quickly - but we changed.

Today, our son is a young adult who stands up against reactionary and oppressive forces. He is equipped to help make the better world. He is feminist. He is fiercely anti-racist. He an ally of LGBT+ causes. He seeks justice within his own country and in more deprived parts of the world. He is knowledgeable and able to discuss issues with those who disagree with him.

I am fortunate that I was able to grow in the same environment that he did and then, increasingly to learn from him.

I suspect that all of us here want to help create the world of love and justice that will continue to grow after our own time and into the generations that follow. We understand the hope of children.

In some ways, children are more prepared for this work than we are. They arrive unbiased and haven’t learned to be polite and frightened about difference.

And children very quickly develop a sense of what is fair and unfair. They notice when they have been treated unfairly and are not shy about sharing that observation - sometimes quite loudly. They are primed to notice injustice.

As we think about raising children to challenge injustice, I know that we - parents and others - worry about how much injustice and suffering we can allow our children to see and know about. We worry that they will become anxious and frightened about the world around them. Of course, everything we tell our children has to be age-appropriate.

The truth is that we cannot protect our children for long from noticing suffering or injustice. They will know it from their friends, from television, from the internet, and - more simply - from seeing the people who have no homes to sleep in or who beg for money as they walk by. They will ask.

And when we hide things from children, they know. They know and they become more frightened. By teaching our children how to challenge injustice, we are empowering them to make a difference - empowering them to change these things they might otherwise find overwhelming. What we can hope to change frightens us less.

How can we prepare and equip our children?

It’s almost impossible to do on your own. You need to find a justice-seeking community. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. This is more true of a justice-seeking child. This New Unity village is here for this work and we can all help it to become an even better teacher to all children.

What should a village strive for in forming its children?

I’m going to share six ways we can help to prepare and equip our children. These include the excellent points from the reading we heard earlier from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I doubt you will remember all six but this message will be on the website early this week. I’ve also given each of them a short and hopefully memorable name.

You won’t be a hero: Children need to know that people will disagree with them and push back when they stand up for justice. To some people, even the word justice is a red flag. Children need to be strong in themselves - to love themselves. They need to raised to be comfortable being themselves. Only then can they be strong in the face of disagreement and challenge.

Charity and justice: Teach children the difference between charity and justice. Children will notice suffering and want to help. That’s a great start. Ultimately, we will have a fairer world with less suffering to ease only when we get at the root causes of suffering. This is the work of justice.

Have and share opinions: As Adichie pointed out, children will be told at some point to be non-judgemental. This can be distorted into the idea that no deed or idea is wrong, and that is nonsense. Children need to learn to seek what is good and that they should not be afraid to have opinions. These opinions must come careful observation of the world and from being knowledgeable and listening carefully. They must be humane and compassionate. And they must learn how to talk to people who disagree with them without becoming disagreeable.

Difference is normal: Even very young children notice the differences between people and they make no value judgements about those differences. Adults often shush children out of their own discomfort and children learn to be afraid and to feel shame around difference. People are different from one another. We look different. We sound different. We act different.

A particularly dangerous idea is that we should be colour blind - to be so unbiased that we don’t notice differences in skin colour. When we adopt this fiction, we lose the ability to talk about racism and to understand and challenge it. Parents need to help children see difference as a normal and ordinary part of being human. It is essential to challenging systemic oppression.

Oppressed people are not always cute: It is easy to have compassion for people who are adorable and passive. Think of the pictures in some of the charity adverts. Cute pathetic children need your help. The truth is that oppressed and underprivileged people can be adult, not cute, and hopefully not passive. They have every reason and right to be objectionable and angry. They may even be angry at you. They need help as much or more as the cute and passive ones. Also, children need to learn that it is part of the human condition to need help from time to time. The fact that someone needs help does not make them either better or worse than you.

Compassion is key: Sustainable and grounded justice work and love are motivated by compassion. When children learn to understand the pain that others feel, they begin to connect deeply to struggles that are not their own. Children who see compassion and understanding around them - in their homes and in their communities - will take on these important qualities.

Each of us, in our relatively short spans of time upon the earth, can only do so much. Even if we are nearly perfect and immensely dedicated, there will always be so much more to do.

But helping all of our children to learn about injustice and equipping them to strive for a better world has an impact that endures from generation to generation. In this way, we will play perhaps our most consequential role in making a better future. Through our children and our children’s children’s children, let us build the world of love and justice.

May it be so.

Closing Words

Let us dream of a world free of oppression and injustice
A world where love abides and flows between all people
And let us work for this world
Today - with our own minds and hearts and hands
And into the distant future through children with the power to see and challenge injustice
Children who learn that love is the only way to drive out hate.
May it be so